President Donald Trump dropped in unannounced last month to serve up a Thanksgiving meal to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Later that day, he addressed the soldiers with a campaign-like stump speech on his accomplishments and his future plans to make deals with the Taliban, take Syria’s oil, and pour U.S. taxpayer dollars into a “space force.”
After a minor complaint that he didn’t get any turkey (“It’s the first time in Thanksgiving that I’ve never had anything called turkey”), due to serving the troops and taking pictures, Trump boasted,
“We have never done so well. We have the greatest economy anywhere in the world. So it’s nice to know that you’re fighting for something that is doing well, as opposed to something that was not doing well just a number of years ago.”
“Our stock market has reached the highest level ever in the history of the exchanges. All three. It’s incredible. It’s incredible, what’s happening. . . . People come up to me with their 401(k)s, they say, ‘Sir, you’ve made me look like a genius.'”
Trump said he was improving the country “like nobody has ever seen.” He took credit for our economic and military growth.
“You know, when I took office—if you can believe it, almost three years ago—we were very depleted. Our military was depleted, in terms of equipment. You see, right? They were all shaking their heads. That’s right. We have all those brand-new planes and brand-new helicopters and brand-new ships being built now.”
“When our enemies hear the sound of your jets—those brand-new, beautiful jets—they hear the sound of those jets. . . . Raise your hands. Let me see. Great. Great job. Helps to have new equipment, doesn’t it? Does it help a little bit? You got nice, new equipment.”
“Warfighters, keep up the great work,” Trump continued. “Together, we’re all very proud of the part the most feared and lethal fighting force ever assembled has played toward peace. America’s military dominates the sky. Nobody can dominate the sky like we do.”
Trump continued the boastful refrain:
“America’s military dominates the sky. You dominate the sea. You dominate the land. You dominate space. You will not be deterred, and you will never, ever be defeated.”
“[T]he long reach and the really awesome power of the United States military is unstoppable.”
Back at home, conservative media eager for vindication praised the issuance of Trump’s 2019 Thanksgiving proclamation. They were excited that Trump named God eight times in seven paragraphs. He’s bringing back God! they said. By contrast, they noted Barack Obama’s last Thanksgiving proclamation (2016) had no mention of God.
Not so fast. Obama’s proclamation eluded to God indirectly by citing the Declaration of Independence (absent from Trump’s proclamation). Obama reminded the nation to be thankful “for the chance to live in a country founded on the belief that all of us are created equal.” No matter speculation on the lack of the word “God,” the word “created” inescapably invokes the reality of the “Creator.” The entire backdrop of the Declaration of Independence is God’s will and justice (“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”). This is our “common creed,” and a part of our “ideals”—words Obama referenced as well. Furthermore, Obama ended his proclamation with “year of our Lord”—a direct mention that mirrors the only reference to God in the U.S. Constitution.
Unnoticed by the pro-Trump crowd was a bit of irony: back in 2016, the same year as Obama’s proclamation, president-elect Trump released an unusual, “positive thinking“-type Thanksgiving message with none but the obligatory reference to God at the end. (“God bless you, and God bless America.”) The message was about unity, but unity around what? Around Trump, apparently.
Also unnoticed was the substance of Trump’s 2019 proclamation: money. Be thankful for the prosperity you gained because I’m president, in other words. It was little more than a 2020 campaign informercial.
While Obama’s proclamation spoke of ideals, Trump focused on materialism: “many blessings,” “bountiful blessings,” “prosperous life,” “faith and foresight of a future rich with liberty,” “bountiful harvest,” “seated at the table,” “blessings we enjoy,” “freedoms and prosperity that thrive across our land,” “good gifts,” “thanks to God for our many blessings.” All of these are indirect references to Trump, because no matter how many times he copies-and-pastes God’s name, he falls back on plugging himself as the savior of the American economy and military.
In so doing, Trump didn’t just miss a bite of Thanksgiving turkey. He missed the entire substance of the holiday. Our “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” is not about honoring God with our lips. Nor is it about basking in our prosperity. It is about uniting in humility before God, in appeals for His continued protection, and in national repentance and obedience to His will. Maybe, if we elect men who are actually committed to faithfully executing the laws, particularly for the thousands of innocent children murdered in the womb each day, God may bless us with peace. Or maybe the Lord’s patience will run out as we dwell on food, money, and claims of our own greatness.
A model Thanksgiving
We can find the real meat of Thanksgiving in George Washington’s first proclamation (1789). If we don’t return to its spirit of repentance, obedience, and humility, the favor of Providence may run out:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:10)